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NPR Arts & Life

Students Seek To Re-Create Ancient Beer Recipe Discovered In Pottery Vessels

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

People have been drinking beer for a very, very long time, but it's been tough to know exactly what ancient beer tasted like.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Leave it to some college students to figure it out. A group of students at Stanford University recently brewed up a batch of beer that was made from a 5,000-year-old recipe.

MCEVERS: And honestly, it didn't sound all that great.

LI LIU: It's not like a beer in the sense that we see, like, a Heineken or a Tsingtao beer. It's like a porridge.

MCEVERS: A boozy porridge - ew.

SIEGEL: Li Liu is a professor of Chinese archaeology at Stanford. She helped analyze the residue left on the inside of ancient vats and funnels unearthed at an ancient brewery in China to figure out the ingredients used for the drink.

MCEVERS: Then she had her students recreate the fermented porridge.

LIU: Well, the idea is for them to - firsthand to understand the lifeway of ancient people.

MCEVERS: The recipe calls for grains of millet and barley along with yam, lily root and a type of Chinese grass sometimes called Job's tears.

SIEGEL: The result - a thick beverage that is low in alcohol but rich in nutrients with a sour and sweet flavor.

LIU: I think the early beer is not just for drink. It's a food.

MCEVERS: You won't be able to buy Professor Liu's beer at a bar anytime soon, but the students who brewed it aren't old enough to buy it there anyway.

LIU: (Laughter) No, but we did not really drink, so people just tasted. We just used a very thin straw and sipped a little bit and taste the flavor.

SIEGEL: And judging from what we've heard about that flavor, it's not clear Professor Liu's next archaeological keg party would draw much of a crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOL'S GOLD SONG, "SURPRISE HOTEL - MAD DECENT TOADZ REMIX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.